'Maverick' S. African province mulls plan to put a black in charge

A widely publicized new constitutional plan for South Africa suggests that a black man should become the chief executive of the country's small but booming east coast province of Natal.

It also says that all laws in the province enforcing apartheid -- political, social, and economic -- should be scrapped.

Not surprisingly, spokesmen for the ruling white National Party are critical of the proposals -- even though they have been produced by a leading Afrikaner nationalist academic, Prof. Jan Lombard, who is head of the Bureau for Economic Policy and Analysis at the very conservative Afrikaans University of Pretoria, and who is also highly respected by senior government policymakers.

The report was commissioned in Natal by big business, including the giant sugar industry, because of dissatisfaction -- even among the province's conservative Afrikaners -- with government plans for the province.

The central government's plans would mean that a considerable part of Natal would be set aside for all-black "independent" rule as a "homeland" for South Africa's biggest African group, the more than 5 million Zulus, descendants of one of Africa's most famous warlike tribes.

This appeals to nobody in Natal except the relative handful of committed white nationalists. The Zulus, led by outspoken KwaZulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, have declined to accept technical "independence" from South Africa, along the lines of another black area further south called Transkei. The Zulus say they want full citizenship as South Africans, not as citizens of a "phony" state that would not be recognized by the outside world.

Nor are the whites happy at the prospect of being forced to vacate valuable farming land. Furthermore, the government's plan makes no proper political provision for the several hundred thousand Asians who live in Natal and who are vital to the province's economy.

Although Natal is a small South African province (compared to the populous, rich Transvaal Province in the north and the sprawling Cape Province in the south), it has several unique features.

* Its provisional council -- the body that controls such affairs as roads, hospitals, and education -- is the only one in the country that is not dominated by the National Party, which controls the central government.

The minor New Republic opposition party is in the majority on the council and delights in obstructing National Party policies with which it disagrees.

* Most whites in Natal are English speaking and have a tradition of friendly relations with the Zulus.

These factors, and others that have emphasized Natal's colonial links with Britain, have given Natal a slightly maverick flavor.Indeed, whites from other parts of the country sometimes regard the place as "rather un- South African" in character.

For just these reasons, the Lombard proposals, which break away from the government's tradition of apartheid, could have more appeal in Natal than anywhere else.

Basically he suggests a form of federal government for the province with all groups having a vigorous say, an entrenched bill of rights, an independent judiciary, and an executive elected on the basis of one man, one vote.

This executive would likely be Chief Buthelezi because of his high standing among the Zulus.

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